In the fall of 2009, Kari and Asle Aarsland boarded a plane bound for southern Ethiopia, where Asle will serve as an anesthesiologist at the Soddo Christian Hospital. There is a great need for an anesthesiologist at the hospital, and Kari and Asle have been asked to lend a helping hand.
In Ethiopia, only 10% of the people have access to a physician, and 140 surgeons support a population of 75 million. Throughout the country it is believed to be less than 20 anesthesiologists, and there is no educational program for this profession.
Giving birth in Ethiopia is often associated with many risks. The death rate among pregnant women in this part of the world is about 1%. Many more sustain permanent injuries as the result of pregnancies and child births. When a mother dies or becomes seriously injured, there is a huge impact to the whole family. In this society more so than in most others we know, the mother is the cornerstone of the family, and for a child, losing its mother is devastating. Why are pregnancies and child birth so dangerous for women in a country like Ethiopia? The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the lack of capability to perform Caesarean Sections is an important contributing factor. Says Asle;"We believe that by educating more health care workers, the long term effect will be improved health conditions for the whole population of southern Ethiopia". The goal and purpose of their work in Ethiopia is to improve the general anesthesia capabilities at the hospital, assist in the education of surgeons, and help educate health care workers to improve the level of care for pregnant women in southern Ethiopia.
The Soddo Christian Hospital (SCH) in the Wolleita region in southern Ethiopia is run by an American non-profit organization with a Christian purpose. By Ethiopian standards this hospital offers very advanced medical procedures and treatment. The hospital has 100 beds, and they perform about 20,000 operational procedures annually. Anesthesia is performed today by anesthesia technicians with a limited 1-2 year education.
In southern Ethiopia there's also a project being started to improve the situation for pregnant women. Due to the vast lack of medical professionals, they have chosen to educate 'health care officers'. They will receive a 4 year general medical education, enabling them to work independently at clinics out in the various districts. To improve the pregnancy care in these districts where the majority of the population lives, the health care officers will receive training to be able to perform Caesarean Sections when necessary. Under supervision of the Norwegian physician and Professor Bernt Lindtjørn, who has worked for many years in Ethiopia, this project is already underway. The plan is for Asle to take part in the education of the health care officers, teaching them basic anesthesia and resuscitation techniques for both mother and child. This will be a centralized educational program with frequent visits to the clinics in the districts.
Asle has a strong and relevant background to enter into such a role. His father was a missionary doctor for many years in Ethiopia, he speaks Amharic (the national language), he has 20 years experience as an anesthesiologist in Norway and the US, and he also has teaching experience as a professor at both the University in Bergen, Norway and University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX.
The American mission projects are normally funded by a church or volunteers, who will donate money to support the hospital and its workers. This is also the case for Soddo Christian Hospital, as the hospital has no funding to support their foreign workers. Kari and Asle must therefore raise the money to support themselves with their own living and travel expenses, in addition to much needed medical and other educational equipment.
The Board at the Norwegian Seamen's Church in Houston has adopted this as their missionary project as they wish to support their Texan 'countrymen' in this service. This means that the congregation will include them in the intercession, information and progress will be communicated via the Church's magazine 'Texas-Nytt', the Internet and by other means, and the offerings during the service at the Church will be dedicated to this project 2-3 times a year. In addition, The Seamen's Church will also assist in forwarding donations to the project, for people who want to offer support directly.
Money donated in the US will be administered through the 'World Medical Mission' organization and will be tax deductable for US residents. Money donated in Norway will be administered through 'Norsk Luthersk Misjonssamband'.
The congregation at the Norwegian Seamen's Church in Houston have established a fundraising Committee, consisting of Marit Doucet, Ellen Laegreid and Inger Ryden. More information about the project and how to become a supporter is available through these individuals, or by contacting the Norwegian Seamen's Church.
The one who is challenging us once said: 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'